So it's 2017 and I'm reading a novel published in 1862 and set in 1817 and Victor Hugo wants me to go back even farther and find a 1727 map of Paris?
This is typical Victor.
Fortunately, we have the internet in 2017. This one's for you, Hugo:
A quick summary of where we are, since I'm picking up in the middle of the book:
Our protagonist and reformed ex-convict Jean Valjean is in hiding. He was originally sentenced to 5 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, but that sentence was lengthened to 19 years after multiple escape attempts. Valjean violated his parole and assumed a new identity, becoming the beloved mayor of a French town and helping out a prostitute who was just a single mother desperately trying to raise money to send to her child, who was living with an innkeeper in another town. Then the town's police inspector and former prison guard Javert comes to Valjean acting extremely sulky and demanding he be dismissed. Javert explained to the mayor that he was about to expose him as an ex-convict named Jean Valjean, but the "real" Jean Valjean had now been arrested and was going to trial. Valjean-in-disguise refuses to dismiss Javert, wrestles with his conscious for a long time, then outs himself as the actual Valjean. Meanwhile, the prostitute dies and Valjean promises to help her child, but a vindicated Javert re-arrests him. Valjean manages to fake his own death and escape prison again, then goes to check in on the prostitute's daughter. Turns out the girl, Cosette, has been treated horribly, so he "buys" her from the innkeepers and starts living with her in the slummy outskirts of Paris. Things were going ok until some people in his neighborhood started getting suspicious and Valjean starts getting paranoid that he's being followed. So one night, he takes little Cosette (she's, like, 7 or so years old) and all his money (he has a ton of money, btw, long story involving beads that Hugo will tell you all about) and sets off in the dark toward the center of Paris, not really sure where he's going but knowing that he can't go back. He then realizes four policemen are following them, and recognizes the face of the lead policeman in the moonlight.
Surprise! It's Javert.
And now here we are, being told to look at this old map of Paris.
Valjean has crossed the Pont d'Austerlitz bridge and is now carrying Cosette on his shoulders and keeping in the shadows as he navigates the streets of a nighttime Paris.
But Valjean ends up at the end of a street with two options: to turn right, where a lane lined by sheds and storehouses goes a short distance and comes to a dead end at a high wall, or to turn left, where an open-ended alley leads to a main thoroughfare. He's about to turn left when he notices that a silent policeman is guarding the intersection with the main thoroughfare.
This all brings us to a very Victor Hugo-esque writing decision. Our hero is trapped, with police behind him and ahead of him. Tension is high. What happens next?
Well, we won't find out until Hugo has given us a little history lesson on the Parisian location where Valjean is standing/panicking.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this is that there was never any neighborhood called Petit-Picpus, at least according to the internet, although the location Hugo is describing seems real enough to forgive him for that. Also very real, and very grisly, is the nearby Cimètiere de Picpus, where the headless bodies more than a thousand guillotine victims are buried.
This is how Hugo describes our imaginary Petit-Picpus neighborhood:
Petit-Picpus ... had the almost monastic appearance of a Spanish town. The roads were rarely paved, the streets not much built up. Apart from the two or three streets we are going to talk about, it was all blank walls and desolation. Not one shop, not one vehicle, only the occasional lighted candle here and there at the windows, and all light extinguished after 10 o'clock. Gardens, convents, yards, allotments, the odd low-built house, and solid walls as high as the houses.
Now we get to the reason the chapter title told us to refer to the 1727 map: Victor claims Petit-Picpus is "quite clearly marked" on such a map, which it is not, because it's not real.
Oh, wait. We're not here to discuss fictional, 18th century Parisian neighborhoods. There's a lovable ex-convict trapped in alley! What's going on with that?
He considered Cul-de-Sac Genrot. That way: blocked. He considered Petite-Rue-Picpus. That way: guarded. He saw a dark figure standing out, black, against the white pavement bathed in moonlight. To go forward was to run into that man. To go back was to run straight into Javert.
The map to the right approximates JVJ's predicament in modern-day Paris.
Jean Valjean felt caught in a slowly tightening net. He looked up to heaven in despair.
Hugo digression count so far: 1.
Tomorrow: II.V.IV Fumbling for a Way Out.